The company that brought CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to the WWE-watching world did something they had never done before on Sunday, June 22, 2014. They broadcast a pay-per-view (PPV) that fans could buy from their cable and satellite providers. Ring of Honor (ROH) put all of its titles on the line and brought in some prominent names from their own past as well as WWE and TNA for the event, emanating from the Tennesse State Fairgrounds/Expo in Nashville.
It was a huge step for a company that has long been thought of as "the biggest indy" - loved for their hard-hitting, high-flying action and the amazing talent they nurtured on its way to the big stage, and often derided in equal measure for their "vanilla midgets" with poor mic skills and booking that valued false finishes over match psychology.
For full results and a (more or less) blow-by-blow account, check out the live blog here.
But results are results...how was Best in the World 2014? It was very ROH.
via ROH's Twitter
Michael Elgin is the 20th World Champion in company history
- or -
How to overbook a main event and still send the fans home happy
Ref bumps, run-ins...this one had it all. It's a testament to the company and the men involved that it didn't turn into the kind of match we got from TNA throughout Magnus' run - where the heel champ looks weak in a win and his opponent ineffectual and dim-witted in a loss.
Part of that is the bookers making the call to have the title change hands. In the long-run, the move scares the heck out of me. Adam Cole oozes charisma - he looked every bit the part of the man you want walking into the biggest show in company history holding your most prestigious belt. Even though he'd been champ for about nine months, it still felt like his run was just getting started. On the other hand, I'm not the biggest Elgin fan in the world - he does what he does quite well, but what he does veers a little too close to the Davey Richards' school of "battling through an insane amount of offense in every match and cutting generic promos" for my liking. Most of the big heels in the company were vanquished tonight, notably Cole's Kingdom/Holy Trinity stable with Matt Hardy and Michael Bennett, so there's going to be a transition period to build up challengers for Unbreakable.
But with Cole and Bennett headed for a stint in New Japan, and Hardy going back to TNA for at least a few shows, the stars finally aligned for Elgin. And while I think they may have had better matches throughout their years in the company, this one got into a nice rhythm after all the shenanigans played out. If ROH's tendancy to not protect finishers and penchant for false finishes bug you, well, they're still going to bug you. But they built a story where even a guy as meh on Elgin as me was pulling for him, and it felt good when he conquered the demon who's been tormenting him.
It also felt like a big moment to close the most important show in company history. It would have been ideal if it had been a BIGGER moment, but this was pretty good.
As to the plethora of interference, it wasn't just there for interference's sake. The Kingdom is your big heel stable, so it was expected that they would get involved, especially once the ref went down. They got to do some damage, and the expectation of their impact on the match made the ending that much more thrilling. It was very smart to tease Elgin taking out his anger on Maria for what Cole did to his wife, and all the more satisfying when MsChif ran in for the mist spot. War Machine is a pretty over act for ROH, and they didn't make the card anywhere else, so having Hanson and Rowe run-in for the save teases them for new fans and gives them some cred for a potential future title shot at reDRagon down the line.
The extra stuff served the story, built the excitement...and then got the hell out of the way so that two men could decide it in the ring. It doesn't get much more pro wrestling than that.
- I routinely sing the praises of Summer Rae in my writing about WWE and NXT, but former WWE Diva Maria Kanellis deserves to be talked about just as much. Especially because she is a unique character in North American sports entertainment - a woman who is as dangerous because of her mind as she is for her body. Her mid-show promo about "her Kingdom" was awesome, as was her sell job on the green mist. And while I know it's objectifying, it also is what is...my word, can she wear some hot pants.
- As much as I defend the extra-curriculars above, one thing bugged me. They had extra referees out at the start to control an angry Elgin and give the match a big fight feel. So once Todd Sinclair had taken a kick to the face, why was matchmaker Nigel McGuinness debating what to do? Send in one of the extra refs that were just here! Thank goodness it didn't end up directly effecting the finish, or I would have crapped all over this match regardless of everything else.
- Kudos to the crowd for coming to life at the right time here. Much like NXT crowds, ROH crowds can get a little too high on themselves, and this one struggled to get their momentum back after interacting with Kevin Steen following his match. But when they threw streamers for the Buckle Bomb/Elgin Bomb combo that came right after Mrs. Elgin's run-in, the "We Fucked Up" chant was priceless.
Dem Boys gonna do what Dem Boys gonna do
Say what you will about Matt Hardy, but the man will still take a sick bump for your entertainment
Jay and Mark Briscoe have been with ROH since pretty much day one. At this point, they're as affiliated with the company in wrestling fans' minds as anyone else. And when fans think about Jay and Mark Briscoe, they think about hot promos that may offend someone (especially if they have liberal sensibilities) and brutal matches from which you're never quite sure how they walk away.
It was fitting that smack dab in the middle of their PPV debut, ROH gave Dem Boys a chance to show their stuff. It would have been a disservice to fans, most of whom were chanting "man up" when the pre-match graphic first showed up on the screen, to deny us this. A card full of hardcore spots and babyfaces cursing a blue streak would have been a bit much. But a half an hour of this? Yes, please.
A ton of credit should go to Hardy, who has completely embraced the reaction he was always going to get from smark crowds and used it so well that he's insanely fun to hate. And not in a "cool heel you want to cheer" way, either. He also proved tonight that, though much of ROH run has been about denying fans the big spot that made him such a star in the early aughts with WWE, he's still willing to do it when the story calls for it. The superplex off the ladder followed by the Jay Driller was a true "Holy $#!+" moment, and felt cathartic for Jay Briscoe and all his fans.
- It's time to give Michael Bennett some props. I think he lacks the individual charisma to be a true breakout star, but he is a very valuable part of a wrestling show. He plays his character to the hilt, has absorbed things from the men the company has put around him, and he works a solid match. Tag teaming may be his groove, and I'd love to see he and Hardy get a real run as an established team.
- Please only go to TNA for a few dates Matt. I can all but guarantee you that they won't use you as well as ROH has.
- Steve Corino on commentary is a great thing 95% of the time (the other 5% of the time he's saying cringe-worthy things abou Asians and stuff). He understandably swings heel to face depending on the match participants, and can call moves in one breath and say something topical and hilarious in the next. His man crush on Hardy provided a lot of his best lines tonight, including "Matt invented brother tag teams - they didn't have those in wrestling before The Hardys" or, after the match was made no DQ, demanding that Nigel give him an answer on "what if they hurt Matt Hardy?" He also got Kevin Kelly's only good line of the night, when he said "haven't you heard of Mattitude?" and K-squared replied "yeah, I was there."
You say goodbye and I say hello
There was a lot of speculation coming into tonight as to whether this would be Kevin Steen's farewell (for real this time, after it was teased at War of the Worlds) and anticipation for the latest return of Christopher Daniels to the company he helped found, this time along with friend and tag partner Frankie Kazarian.
For me, that buzz may have helped to overshadow the matches themselves. I can't find anything particularly wrong with Silas Young vs. Steen or reDRagon vs. Kaz & Daniels. But they're not matches that made me stand up and take notice.
The Last Real Man has some impressive moves and is devoted to his character, but I can't help but feel something is missing - and it's hurting what is most likely Mr. Wrestling's farewell program in the company. Steen is an important enough figure that he deserves to go out like Punk, Danielson, McGuinness or at least his frenemy El Generico, who wrapped up his epic feud with his Steenerico partner before leaving for Mexico and the orphans. Young feels like a placeholder where we should be getting a hot young star or an equal.
Of course, this may just be sadness that Kev is leaving, a move his promo about only having a month and a half left with ROH all but cemented, and fear that he'll be misused in WWE.
The tag title match suffered from a few things. One, the crowd was kind of burned out at this point, and a program between two teams that they liked equally and with very little backstory wasn't going to be the thing to wake them back up. Two, I think this match demonstrated a bad example of overbooking, or at least heelish shenanigans, as it didn't make any sense why the champs weren't disqualified when Bobby Fish pulled the referee out of the ring before he could count the pin on Kyle O'Reilly after Kaz hit the Flux Capacitor.
It was a really good match (better than Steen/Young, for sure), but was missing that certain something to really put it over the top. While adhering to the Code of Honor at the end of the match, the Fallen Angel pulled each member of the champs in to say "this isn't over". And I hope it's not. Turning this into a hot feud would be the thing to push it over the top, and probably make Fish and O'Reilly for life.
- The opener was hot, and absolutely the right call to start the show. ACH was also the right choice to win, since he's over with the crowd and should be moved up the card over the coming year. Despite being a spotfest, several narratives were advanced, such as the Adrenaline Rush break-up, C & C vs. The Decade and internal tension between the veterans and "young boys" of BJ Whitmer's faction.
- I would watch the heck out of a Tommaso Ciampa/Takaai Watanabe singles match. Those boys hit hard. Not sure what the hold up on a push for The Sicilian Psychopath is either. He's ready.
- Matt Taven is not over enough for the story they were trying to tell between him and The House of Truth to work. Their match also felt a little sloppy to me - guys who've worked together as much as they two should have tighter choreography. And, like a WWE steel cage match, it's always annoying when a stipulation is in place to prevent interference and then a match is chock full of interference - and Truth Martini and his bodyguard Seleyzia (who wasn't even restrained in anyway despite her boss being handcuffed to the ringpost) had a huge impact on this one. I'm a Lethal mark, and this did very little for me.
- Cedric Alexander and Roderick Strong have really good chemistry together. They once again put on one of my favorite matches of the night, and definitely the highlight of the undercard. It was a little weird that Roddy didn't go for the Stronghold earlier, especially after the sickening sounding and looking bump Cedric took off the apron on a back body drop earlier, but it was cool seeing the younger man bust out submissions we've never seen from him, and his finishing the Messiah of the Backbreaker with his own tools was surprising and exciting.
- Now take the microphones away from them, and make sure Jimmie Jacobs does all the talking for Strong, and Caprice Coleman for Alexander.
- Another impressive looking, poor sounding roster member is Future of Honor signee Moose. His football background is legit and reports on him from the FOH shows is promising, but man, was he wooden on the stick here. The stuff with Veda Scott trying to recruit him was interesting, but not as interesting as some #NewStreak would have been.
- In some areas, ROH stepped up their production. The intro package was top notch, and almost all reports I've seen were positive on how the show looked on HD and SD screens. But the arena set-up is still noticably below WWE and TNA, and the lighting choices don't help. Brightly light ring corners with not much ambient light coming from behind makes it look like you're hiding the crowd, and it certainly didn't sound like there was any reason to do that. Sinking a little more money into production would help a lot of fans look at the promotion differently. Maybe someday Sinclair Broadcasting will be interested in making that happen.
This three hours was packed with action and thoroughly enjoyable. But like the tag title match, the show was missing that one moment that would make it the kind of show that converts fans who normally wouldn't give ROH a chance into regulars.
If you like ROH, or the things that they're known for, this was an excellent showcase of what they do. If you don't like those things or are married to the kind of pro wrestling that shows up on national television every week, I don't know that Best in the World is going to motivate you to give ROH your entertainment dollar.
For me, I have no qualms about the time or money I spent with this PPV. But I can't help but weigh it a little against expectations.
That's all I've got, Cagesiders. What was your take?